VISION & VALUES CONCISE: Hiding Truth From Schoolchildren: It’s Elementary Revisited

“It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School” is an award winning video that aims to give teachers ideas about how to discuss gay issues in schools. Released in 1996 by producers Helen Cohen and Oscar winner Debra Chasnoff, this video is still quite controversial, in part because it shows elementary school children talking about homosexuality in public schools. In one of the segments, there is a young gay man answering questions from middle school students about what it is like to be gay. The film is still being shown in schools but there is a little known fact about that young man that today’s viewers don’t know. The young man in the video is no longer gay. And that is something producers Chasnoff and Cohen as well as at least one school committee in Maryland don’t want you to know.

Noe’ Gutierrez, the young man that told his story in the video, came out as gay at 16 but then came out again as ex-gay at 24. On “It’s Elementary,” he was filmed speaking to a San Francisco area middle school on behalf of Community United Against Violence. Mr. Gutierrez was quite involved in gay advocacy and frequently spoke publicly on this topic. However, about six years ago Mr. Gutierrez went through a period of re-evaluation and change. The end result was his change of sexual identity from gay to straight. Without fanfare, Mr. Gutierrez went through a profound experience of transformation and after a while of working through his experience began telling others of his change.

When ex-gay spokesman John Paulk went into Mr. P’s gay bar in Washington D.C. several years ago, the country knew about it. Even though Mr. Paulk did not fall sexually and is still happily married to former lesbian Anne Paulk, the media turned his lapse of judgment into a referendum on ex-gay ministries. When Mr. Gutierrez came out a second time as ex-gay, no one wrote about it, even though in the eyes of many people, what he did was a nearly impossible accomplishment. Amazingly, certain people want his story to stay unknown.

For instance, take filmmakers Chasnoff and Cohen. When I began putting together plans to produce a video about gay-to-straight change, I asked Ms. Chasnoff for permission to use the clip of Mr. Gutierrez talking to the middle school students. She refused without giving reason. I suppose she may feel that others knowing of his change would undermine her project.

Another group that does not want to disclose Mr. Gutierrez’s story is the Montgomery County (Md.) Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development. “It’s Elementary” is a video resource used in the Montgomery County school district. However, Mr. Gutierrez wrote a letter requesting that if “It’s Elementary” is used, students should be made aware that he is no longer gay. Seems fair enough. He wants the rest of the story known and this seems a fair way to do it. Simply tell the students or teachers that Mr. Gutierrez is no longer gay and show the film. The objective of tolerance for all people would seem to be enhanced by such a procedure. However, the school committee refused to approve the letter as a resource for teachers to use with the film. Thus, students or teachers viewing this film would have no idea that one of the speakers describing what it is like to be gay is no longer gay. Why withhold this information? Why would anyone want to hide the facts from teachers and students that people change?

Whatever the reasons for the reluctance of the school committee and filmmakers to allow the reality of change to be known, Mr. Gutierrez has not remained silent. He has joined an ever growing group of former homosexuals who are telling their stories. In fact, Noe’ Gutierrez and four other ex-gays tell their stories on the documentary I mentioned above. If high schools want their teachers to be prepared to discuss gay issues in schools, it’s elementary that all the facts come out.